Latest News 05/03/2012
Researchers seek new treatments for chemo-resistant blood cancers
Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have received $585,000 in Leukaemia Foundation funding to investigate new treatment options for chemotherapy-resistant blood cancers.
The funding will support five projects, with a particular focus on developing new therapies for blood cancers that do not respond to conventional chemotherapy agents. These cancers typically have a poor prognosis and are often the result of relapse after initial treatment.
Blood cancers, including leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas, represent almost 10 per cent of all cancers diagnosed each year in Australia. Lymphoid cancers (which include some leukaemias and lymphomas) are the fifth most common cause of cancer death in Australia, and blood cancers account for 10 per cent of cancer deaths per year.
Dr Kylie Mason, Dr Toru Okamoto, Professor Andrew Roberts and Professor David Huang, from the institute’s Cancer and Haematology and ACRF Chemical Biology divisions, were awarded $100,000 to study the role of a pro-survival protein that is implicated in some blood cancers that are resistant chemotherapy. The protein, called Mcl-1, is important in the programmed cell death process, but is overproduced in some cancers, causing the cells to become unresponsive to stimuli that instruct them to die, such as DNA damage caused by chemotherapy.
Also a clinical haematologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Dr Mason said the funding would help to further research from the ACRF Chemical Biology division to explore how Mcl-1 could be a useful drug target for treating some chemotherapy-resistant leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas.
“Over the past 20 years, scientists have determined how the cell death mechanism is subverted in cancer cells, leading to the development of highly promising anti-cancer agents that target Bcl-2, a factor that blocks cell death,” Dr Mason said. “The Leukaemia Foundation funding will support us in looking at whether we can promote the killing of blood cancer cells by targeting Mcl-1, a Bcl-2 relative, which has been implicated in many cancers including leukaemias and myelomas.”
The role of another Bcl-2-related protein in the development of blood cancers has been supported by $100,000 in funding. Dr Marco Herold from the institute’s Molecular Genetics of Cancer division will study the role of the cell-survival protein A1/Bfl1 in the development of blood cancers.
“High levels of A1/Bfl1 has been reported in several types of leukaemias and lymphomas, and has been implicated as a cause of chemotherapy resistance in chronic lymphocytic leukaemias, lymphomas and other cancer cells,” Dr Herold said. “The research will provide valuable insights into the role of A1/Bfl-1 in the development of blood cancers and we anticipate that the protein might be a potential therapeutic target for new cancer treatments.”
“We have recently identified the cells that give rise to T-ALL, termed leukaemia-initiating cells or LICs,” Dr McCormack said. “We know that LICs require a specific cellular home or ‘niche’, and we will be investigating whether disrupting this ‘niche’ could provide new treatment opportunities for children with T-ALL. We will also use a screening approach to identify new drugs that eliminate LICs, which are intrinsically resistant to conventional therapies such as radiotherapy.”
Mr Matt Witkowski and Ms Sophie Lee were also awarded PhD scholarships to support their studies into blood cancer.
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